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Pre-K education lifts all children

February 22, 2018
Tim Burgess
The Seattle Times

We are failing to prepare all of our children for a successful life, a reality that creates injustice and social inequity, harms our long-term economic prospects, and costs all of us a lot of money. This tragic fact is most evident when we look at education achievement.

Less than half of Seattle’s low-income children and children of color are ready to begin their formal education when they walk through the door of their kindergarten classrooms, meaning they lack basic, age-expected social-emotional development, and language, cognitive, literacy and math skills. These facts are sadly clear in the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills (WaKIDS) completed each year in the first few weeks of kindergarten.

This prekindergarten preparedness failure continues into the elementary grades, too. Only about one-third of children of color in grades three to eight in Seattle Public Schools can pass basic proficiency tests in reading and math. More than three-fourths of their white peers pass. Put another way, two-thirds of our elementary-aged children of color fail because we do not adequately address vital child development needs in the crucial birth-to-five window of opportunity before they start kindergarten.

This inequity, this moral failure, has persisted in Seattle for decades. That’s why it is time to take a different, very bold and strategic approach, one that is squarely focused on making sure every child born in Seattle receives the strong and fair start they deserve, including being prepared to enter kindergarten ready to learn and thrive.

This is vital work we should all embrace because children entering kindergarten without basic, ready-to-learn-and-thrive skills face a steep climb. For most, it’s too steep a climb, and they will never catch up, as the evidence shows. And this reality not only harms these children and their families, but all of us in higher social-service costs, failure to prepare our future workforce and unnecessary criminal-justice system involvement.

This terrible American — and Seattle — tragedy is well documented in “Cradle to Kindergarten: A New Plan to Combat Inequality” by Ajay Chaudry, Taryn Morrissey, Christina Weiland and Hirokazu Yoshikawa. Citing their research and successful programs, these scholars agree we should invest very early in the lives of children in high-quality programs designed to enhance brain development, prepare kids for kindergarten and support parents.